Jellied in postpubescent malaise, Momoko Ando’s debut feature Kakera is a lesbian love story with a dusting of fantasy sprinkles. But is it all sweet nothings?
Lost In Cupcakesby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
It’s no surprise Momoko Ando’s debut feature Kakera: A Piece Of Our Life is based on a manga novel. Perhaps it’s Haru’s wide eyes and short black bob. Or maybe the animations of spewed-up hot water bottles metamorphosing into night owls. But beneath the sugary frosting lies a dark love-heart of teenage anxiety.
Morose Haru and chipper Riko meet over cheesecake; Haru drowning her man troubles in a cappuccino, Riko on a break from making prosthetic limbs, unexpectedly attracted to the milk-mustachioed dreamer. The difference between the two is striking enough; Haru in her baggy cargo pants with her slobbish boyfriend and uninspiring college studies is a sophomore slacker compared to the decisive lesbian, bodypart-artist Riko. Over noodles and icecream, the pair tiptoe into a relationship of sorts, away from the inadequacy of men. These girls just wanna have fun.
It’s a peculiarly highschool, Hello-Kitty relationship that envelops the taciturn twosome. They kiss a couple of times, but it’s more pyjama party than lesbian love fest. Riko likes girls because they’re soft and they smell nice, like cake. But unable to take her own advice she gorges on the things she likes, becoming possessive and eventually pushing Haru away. Buffeted between philandering ex-boyfriend and jealous girlfriend, Haru is a shapeless void, struggling to find out who she really is and what to do with her piece of life.
The story thus meanders between Riko, the prostheticist with a talent for making people whole again, her bewigged older madame and Haru, whose lacklustre quest to find herself mainly involves meeting friends over crude American porn. That she should reject the men on offer is hardly surprising, little more than cartoon avatars, either lazy womanisers or limpingly lovelorn. Instead, prodding Riko’s bum with fleshy fascination, it’s clear that Riko can offer her something beyond her own anaesthetised existence.
Despite the surreal quirks and existential angst, there are also some beautiful moments of self-realisation; a despairing Haru throws herself into a swimming pool suddenly aflame with the reflection of a star-filled sky. Her final reel transformation from androgynous deadbeat to bright young thing, marked by a clean apartment and a knee-revealing new pink dress, may not give much away in terms of her love interests, but shows her readiness to break out of the muted chrysalis of indecision that has tempered her life till now.
There’s also a hesitant symbolism to the mandarin she’s given; it’s soft and smells nice – perhaps a return to Riko or a nod to Jeanette Winterson’s orangey novel. It could even be a reference to otoshidama, the Japanese new year tradition of giving mochi and mandarins, suggesting a new beginning for Haru away from both boyfriend and girlfriend. It’s perhaps in this way we can best understand Haru’s final existential scream. That she is hurting so much from a break-up with Riko seems unlikely, after all she never seemed all that in love with her. Instead, her scream reveals a pained rebirth, Haru’s fearsome journey into the unknown.
Metamorphosis is at the heart of Kakera: A Piece Of Our Life – from prosthetic bodyparts to soda pop bottles transforming into doves. At times bewildering, Momoko Ando’s debut is however curiously enigmatic. It may have the sweet teenage fluorescence of Battenberg, but it’s certainly no piece of cake.